It can be discouraging when God doesn’t change people when you pray for them, here’s why that happens.
Recently a member of our community sent me an email asking if I had any kind of encouragement or direction for her because she was struggling in her marriage. She wanted to know why God wasn’t answering her prayers for her husband to change the way he was treating her and their kids.
She just didn’t understand what she was doing wrong and why God wasn’t answering her prayers. This is something that I hear a lot. I hear it from women wanting to know why their husbands won’t change. I hear it from parents wondering why their kids won’t change.
It boils down to this question: if I am praying for this person that I love and that I care about why won’t God answer that prayer?
I’m going to get super personal today about this idea that our prayers can change a person. I’ve been pretty open with my story of being in more than one abusive marriage. I remember being told that I just needed to pray for my husband.
If he was not doing what he was supposed to do (like working or paying the bills) all I needed to do was keep praying and believing until God changed him. And of course, God would answer that prayer and make that happen.
I’ve also been in a situation where I had a friend who was being unkind. I didn’t like what they were saying or how they were acting. So, I began to pray asking God to change them. I wanted God to make them act better towards me and be a better person.
I have since realized that’s actually not a prayer that’s going to have the effect that I wanted and it’s not a prayer that’s something that God’s going to do. Stay with me to the end here. I promise that I haven’t lost my mind. It’s all going to make sense.
God Doesn’t Operate Like That
When you ask God to change a person, you are essentially asking God to override their free will. God doesn’t operate like that. He’s a gentleman. He waits to be invited into a situation. He gives us the choice. We can choose to follow him or we can choose not to follow him.
He’s not pushy, cruel, controlling, overbearing, or manipulative in any way. If he were to change someone simply because you asked him to, that would be out of his character and contrary to his nature. Now I know you’re probably thinking, well that’s not true because the bible says to pray for people.
I absolutely agree! The bible does tell us to pray for people, to pray for our enemies, to pray for those who spitefully use us, and that we should be in prayer for all things. But that does not mean that when you pray the right words, or if you pray enough, or fast the right way and do and say all the right things, God’s going to change a person.
Here’s why. God’s not going to do anything that you don’t want him to do, that you don’t allow him to do in your heart. For a person to change, they have to want to change. I know that that can be hard and difficult to hear and to wrap your mind around it, but that is simply the truth.
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Examples in Scripture of God Not Changing People
If you don’t believe me, just open your bible to Genesis and take a look at Adam and Eve. They chose to disobey God and rebel against the instructions he gave them. Now, God, who is all-powerful and all-knowing knew that this is what they were going to do when he created them and put them in the garden.
He could have chosen to keep them from doing that. But he didn’t. He gave them free will and he was not going to take that away from them. Look at Saul and David. Saul persecuted David relentlessly simply because Saul had disobeyed God and fallen out of favor with God and David was his replacement.
He went after David with everything in his sight. Hunted him down, tried to trick him, and trap him until the day he died. I’m quite sure that David at some point was like, Lord, could you please do something with Saul because he’s trying to hurt me and I’m tired of running for my life all these years.
But God didn’t do that. He did not step in and make Saul act a different way. He gave Saul the choice to repent and do better but Saul chose not to. You see David in this situation. He had many opportunities to get back at Saul, to kill Saul, and to do all kinds of bad things.
And David chose not to. We all have free will. We all have a choice. It’s a gift from God because he doesn’t want robots that are just blindly following him and doing whatever he wants them to do.
How to Pray For People Who Won’t Change
The hard truth when it comes to praying for other people is that there is nothing that you can do that’s going to get somebody to change if they don’t want to. If you are in a situation where you are begging God and pleading with God for a person to change, please don’t think that you’re doing something wrong, that you’re not praying enough, or that their lack of change has anything to do with you.
It doesn’t. God is simply waiting for them to choose to repent or respond to the truth of the gospel so that he can then come into their hearts and their lives and begin the transformation process of sanctification. So what can you pray for if asking God to change a person isn’t the right way to go about something?
I think that you should be praying for people in your life because they need to make some different choices or they need to make some lifestyle changes. Pray for them to get so sick and tired of all of the sinful choices and the lifestyle that they’re living, that they finally turn to God and repent and walk the straight and narrow.
Pray for God to continue to send people into their lives who are going to speak truth and love to them, who are going to preach the gospel, and who are going to point them back to Jesus continually. To give them the hope that they can pick a different path and make a different choice and change.
Pray for them to hit rock bottom so that they will look up and see that God is the answer. These are all things that you can pray for because it’s not in our power to change people. I wish it was. Do you know how awesome it would be if I could just simply pray for my kids to have better attitudes or pray for them not to bicker and fight with one another or pray for that friend, for that relationship that ended for them to just act differently and be better?
That would be amazing, but I’m human and I don’t have that power. I’m not the Holy Spirit. I can’t convict people and pierce their hearts and make them see the error of their ways if they don’t want to. Be careful about putting that burden on yourself because you’re not that powerful either.
You don’t have the ability to save anybody. The gospel does the saving, the Word of God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and God are the ones that do the work. You are just here to love on people, to build relationships with people, and to speak the truth even if they don’t want to hear it.
It’s not your job to fix all the broken people or to save the whole world. It’s not within your power or control. Remember that God honors our choices. If the person that you are praying for chooses to ignore God and chooses to not follow God, God is going to respect that choice and you have to do the same. God is not going to skull drag them into salvation kicking and screaming if they don’t want to go.
What Happens When You Pray For Someone to Change
I do want to share with you something that has happened to me many times when I have been praying for a person in my life to change. Not once has that person ever actually changed just because I was praying and that’s what I wanted to happen.
Not once, but what did happen, and what usually happens, is that I changed. God began to show me my heart and my attitude and show me some sinful areas in my life. Places that I needed to grow or that I needed to fully surrender him and as it related to that person and that relationship with that person.
He does this so often with me, especially with my kids. I will be giving him an earful about that kid that he created and gave to me. And he’ll point out that my attitude really isn’t very gracious, I haven’t acted loving, and I’m being unkind with my words and actions. I realize that I’m causing some hurt here.
So what can you do to change? What can you do to grow? What can you do to be a light? What can you do to be a better witness to the power of the gospel? These are questions that I find myself wrestling with.
So often God wants to change you. I want to encourage you to ask God to show you any ways that you need to change or grow. Sometimes the person that you are burdened for will notice a difference in you and it will give you the window or an opportunity to share your testimony and point them back to God.
That’s happened so many times where somebody has watched me and said they couldn’t understand why I wasn’t angry, bitter, or trying to get that person back. I’m honest and tell them that if it was up to me, I would do those things, but because I love and serve God, I know that that’s not what he wants me to do.
Final Thoughts on Why God Doesn’t Change People
I never want to see people who are struggling with their faith because they don’t understand God. I don’t want you to feel angry and hopeless because you’ve prayed and I prayed, and that person never changed. I always want to encourage you to examine the things that you think about God, the things that you think about prayer, bible study, your faith, and about being a Christian.
Think about those things and filter them through the truth of the gospel. You might just reconfirm what you know to be true, what you think to be true, and that’s great, but sometimes you might realize that you don’t have it 100% right. Then you’re able to repent, change your mind, and get more aligned with God’s truth.
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